The anti-sexual harassment backlash started with the Harvey Weinstein expose claimed its latest victim on Thursday when news anchor, former model and sports broadcaster Leeann Tweeden accused Minnesota’s Democratic Senator Al Franken of “kissing and groping” her without her consent in 2006.
In an essay published this morning on KABC, Tweeden accused Franken of groping her, without her consent, while she was asleep and provided a photo as evidence.
— Leeann Tweeden (@LeeannTweeden) November 16, 2017
The incident happened in December 2006, when she and Franken, then a comedian, were on a USO Tour to “entertain our troops.”
Tweeden, a morning anchor on Los Angeles station KABC, said she was part of a United Service Organizations (USO) tour in 2006 to entertain troops stationed in the Middle East. At the time, Tweeden said, she was “a TV host and sports broadcaster, as well as a model familiar to the audience from the covers of FHM, Maxim and Playboy,” and did not expect to play a large part in the performance.
She wrote that it was her ninth time on such a tour, which Franken, then a comedian, headlined. Tweeden said she agreed to play a part in one of Franken’s skits. “When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss’. I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd,” she wrote.
According to Tweeden, Franken insisted on rehearsing the kiss backstage, and “continued to insist” over her protestations until she agreed so he would stop “badgering” her.
“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” Tweeden wrote. “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”
“It wasn’t until I was back in the U.S. and looking through the CD of photos we were given by the photographer that I saw this one,” she wrote on KABC. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated,” she wrote. “How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”
In the photograph published in Tweeden’s essay, Franken is looking into the camera and grinning as he reaches toward Tweeden’s chest. Tweeden’s eyes are closed, and the person sitting next to her also appears to be asleep.
“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” Tweeden wrote. “I told my husband everything that happened and showed him the picture.”
“I wanted to shout my story to the world with a megaphone to anyone who would listen, but even as angry as I was, I was worried about the potential backlash and damage going public might have on my career as a broadcaster,” she wrote. “But that was then, this is now. I’m no longer afraid.”
She said she is sharing her story because there may be others.
“I want the days of silence to be over forever,” she wrote.
Tweeden also issued a direct statement to Franken.
“Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault. You knew exactly what you were doing. You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed.”
In a statement obtained by Talking Points Memo, Franken apologized to Tweeden saying “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”
Tweeden said she is “still angry” about what she says Franken did. “Every time I hear his voice or see his face, I am angry. I am angry that I did his stupid skit for the rest of that tour,” she wrote. “Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”
Tweeden’s comments come amid increased reports of sexual harassment in the workplace, including on Capitol Hill. Multiple women in Congress have come forward to say they have been victims of sexual harassment, prompting lawmakers to call for reform.
Rep. Jackie Speier said Tuesday the House has paid out $15 million in harassment settlements over more than a decade, though a spokesperson later clarified that figure does not only account for sexual harassment claims. She said at a Tuesday hearing that two current members of Congress, one Republican and one Democrat, have been accused of sexual harassment.
Her comments come after multiple women have accused GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct. Moore is facing growing calls from top Republicans to step aside in the Alabama race, though he has indicated he plans to continue running.
It remains to be seen if the public backlash against the Democratic Senator will be sufficient to prompt his resignation.
Tweeden’s full report can be read here.